Article by: Medianikk
Love him or hate him, Buju Banton remains on the lineup of performers at Miami’s Reggae Bash concert at the James L. Knight Center, despite a wave of protests nationwide from members of the gay and lesbian community.
Banton, 36, a major force on the Jamaican dancehall/reggae since the late 80s, has been criticized by gay rights advocates for a controversial song Boom Bye Bye a song he penned in 1988 but popularized in 1992. The song advocates violence against homosexuals.
The song became an instant hit, spurred in large part by Jamaica’s homophobic sensibilities. But the performer, whose songs have long since evolved from the sexually charged lyrics of a young dancehall artist, to a more socially aware artist with songs such as Til Shiloh and Deportee, maintains that he hasn’t performed the song in years and should not be judged by a singular song from his extensive catalog.
In a statement released by his Gargamel label Banton maintains that he “was all of 15 years old when he wrote ‘Boom Bye Bye’ in response to a widely publicized man/boy rape case in Jamaica. It was not a call to violence.’’
“The song was released on a popular dancehall rhythm in 1992 and caused a huge uproar after receiving commercial radio play in the States. Following much public debate back then, prominent gay rights leaders and Buju decidedly moved on. For the record, it is the only song he ever made on the subject – and he does not perform it today.”
Still, under mounting pressure, and after having several shows cancelled by promoters AEG Live/Goldenvoice and Live Nation, Banton met with gay rights activists in San Francisco. But many maintain that the meeting was far from productive.
“Our position [that the shows be cancelled] has not changed,’ said Brian Winfield, communications director of Equality Florida. “The meeting between human right leaders and Buju was far from successful,’’
“He was asked to take positive steps to counter the violent, hateful, anti-gay message of Boom Bye Bye and he refused. He would not even distance himself from the sentiment of the song, which is that it’s okay to kill gay people,’’ Winfield said.
At the core of the debate that has spawned countless online commentary among Jamaicans and non Jamaicans, is whether or not an artist should be penalized for a song written in his youth. In essence, is there no redemption for Banton since his musical repertoire since Boom Bye Bye, has been largely one of a positive message?
Larger still is the pressing question of whether or not gay rights activists aren’t in effect censoring Banton’s right to free speech?
“The controversy is ludicrous,” says Andrew Minott, the promoter of the Miami concert.
“If all the activists would take the time to listen to his other albums they would be surprised. They have merely listened to that one song and have condemned him for that.’’
Added Minott: “How would they feel if an organization of straight people were to routinely protest gay events? It’s a double standard.”
Minott has seen some fallout.
Toyota of Hollywood pulled their sponsorship of the concert and he will likely increase security.
“This issue highlights a huge cultural divide about Jamaican dancehall music in which artists sing about violence but none of them mean it literally, it’s all figurative,’’ said Minott.
Winfield of Equality Florida is unbending.
“Buju has a right to say and sing whatever he likes,’’ said Winfield. “However, theatre owners are not obligated to provide him a stage to amplify his hateful message.’’
Still, the show will go on says Lorenzo Muniz, General Manager of the James L. Knight Center.
“We feel compassionate towards the position of the community. Please understand that our role is to rent space to promoters as we do not promote or co-promote. If the City does not object to these events then we have an obligation to move forward, whether we personally agree or not. We do not preemptively judge or judge solely by content. We take an A-Political position as we as a public venue have a duty to recognize all genres of music, dance, speech, lifestyles, cultures and religions, etc.’’
Medianikk is an award-winning writer based in Miami, Florida.